I found a 43″ Parabolic Softbox for $25. It’s made for use with studio strobes, but who’s got time for those these days? Speedlights are the way to go. Stores and stores of them. It just so happens that this softbox works perfectly with speedlights, although you give up about a third-stop on the light output. In return, you get much better access to the speedlight’s controls and if you have a wireless ETTL or iTTL trigger, that’ll work (in an approximate sense) too.
I also own a few Appollo Orbs from Westcott. They’re designed specifically to work with speedlights, but honestly, I don’t think there’s a big enough difference to justify spending the extra $130. And, in fact, these cheap softboxes offer a way better range of motion. Well, unless you need to point them up, in which case neither option is going to do it for you.
The build quality between the two is similar, but the material on the Appollo Softboxes is much thicker. Obviously.
Shooting through the outside of the softbox costs a little bit in terms of light output, but the difference is negligible. On the other hand, the light passing through the outside of the softbox adds another layer of diffusion, although the difference there might also be negligible. The output is even fairly even, though slightly center heavy, as one might expect. For the portability, disposability and flexibility, I’d say these are worth every penny. They’re also a great way to get started using light modifiers like these.
As a side note: I have been checking and have not noticed the material getting hot. No worries there, at least not with a Canon 580EXII.
After purchasing and playing around with one of these, I went ahead and got three more. The ease of use is a bit of a game changer in terms of studio shooting on the fly. And, just for a quick example, here is a photo of me approving of these cheap softboxes and pretending to laugh.
If you get one, I’d love to see how you use it. Send me something on Twitter.